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Racial Literacy– An introduction and enquiry

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1 Racial Literacy– An introduction and enquiry
Dr Odette Kelada School of Culture and Communication Australian Indigenous Studies University of Melbourne

2 Racial literacy The term ‘racial literacy may be defined as a set of social competencies that seek to decode the discursive and performative systems of race. It aids in the critical understanding of the function of methods of representation, interpretation, and construction of knowledges. Racial literacy is the process of making legible race in order to see how it adapts its syntax to mask class and code geography and learning to see that race involves a set of representational practices.

3 Key Scholarship Prof. Lani Guinier – Legal studies – Critical Race Theory Prof. Frances Winddance Twine – Sociology – Whiteness Studies  Rebecca Rogers and Melissa Mosley – Critical Discourse Analysis, Literacy and Education Studies– Discursive analysis Michelle T. Johnson – Rhetoric and Composition studies - Discursive analysis

4 “Treat the disease and not just its symptoms
“Treat the disease and not just its symptoms. A first step would be to make legible racism’s ever shifting yet ever-present structure…the continuing puzzle is how to address the complex ways race adapts its syntax to mask class and code geography…this requires a new racial literacy, meaning the capacity to decipher the durable racial grammar that structures racialised hierarchies …” (From Racial Liberalism to Racial Literacy: Brown V. Board of Education and the interest-Divergence Dilemma, section 8) Guinier proposes the move to racial literacy saying “we need to become racially literate, not postracially blind…it is sometimes a virulent subtext, at other times a nuanced dynamic. But always the meaning of race needs to be interrogated and conjugated carefully in light of relevant local circumstances and their historic underpinnings. All … need to be better schooled in the subtle yet complex ways that race actually works in the 21st century. Racial literacy requires familiarity with unconscious bias as well as structural racism. It demands a far more nuanced approach than typical charges of racism or race-carding.” ( Lani Gunier “Guinier in Chronicle of Higher Education: Race and Reality in a Front-Porch Encounter” July 30, 2009)

5 3 steps: 1/ It is contextual rather than universal.
2/ It emphasises the relationship between race and power, reading race in it psychological, interpersonal and structural dimensions. 3/ While racial literacy never loses sight of race, it does not focus exclusively on it and constantly interrogates the dynamic relationship among race, class, geography, gender and other explanatory variables.

6 Twine’s analytic criteria for RL:
1. A recognition of the symbolic and material value of whiteness 2. The definition of racism as a current social problem rather than just a historic legacy 3. An understanding that racial identities are learned and are an outcome of social processes 4. The possession of racial grammar and a vocabulary that facilitates a discussion of race, racism and antiracism 5. The ability to translate (interpret) racial codes and racialised practices 6.An analysis of the ways racism is mediated by class inequalities, gender hierarchies and heteronormativity. (Twine and Steinbugler, ‘The gaps between whites and whiteness’, 2006, p.344)


8 Sony advertising campaign 2006

9 Richard Bell, ‘Little Johnny’, 2001

10 ‘The action or process of representing implies control…because above all, representations involve consumption; representations are put to use in the domestic economy of an imperial society.’ Edward Said, 1990:94.

11 Dianne Jones ‘Shearing the Rams’, 2001

12 Contact: Dr Odette Kelada –

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